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October 16th 2009
Published: October 16th 2009
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The old Tomarata HallThe old Tomarata HallThe old Tomarata Hall

On the road to Mangawhai, I came across the Tomarata Hall where my old schoolmate Howard and i used to attend country dances. Most of the action took place outside the hall, where we would try to entice girls into Howards parents family car - a 1957 Ford Prefect - with the promise of beer from quart bottles or very ocassionally, blackberry nip. Our less than subtle attempts to lure members of the opposite sex seldom worked.

Testing Time

The time for talking was over. Time to put feet to the pedals, bum to the seat etc and go for it. The goal was straightforward - from Parakai near Helensville to Warkworth via Highway 16, then north for a few k before turning right to Mangawhai.
My guidebook ("Pedallers Paradise") describes the route using phrases such as:
"There starts a 2 and a half kilometre climb, undulates and rolls, occasional steeper hills, quite a steep climb". You get the idea.
My tent was a soggy mess after being camped in a lake at Parakai, the bike was loaded with left over food I didn want to waste, and I had three full drink bottles on board. The Beast of Burden was bulging with equipment and I was having handling problems.
The panniers were no longer falling off, but they were falling apart. And the Beast is behaving badly. On the hills it was getting what I call a case of (from my motorcycling days, when a badly balanced bike would try to swerve wildly at speed). Fortunately, the Beast was only having problems at low speed, up hills. But it wasn comfortable riding.
Its Seen Better DaysIts Seen Better DaysIts Seen Better Days

The Tomarata hall is still available for hire - for birthdays and other social events. But these days cars pass by it on their way to the much more obvious attractions at mangawhai - surf, and the expensive holiday homes of Aucklanders.

The first big hill just beyond Kaukapakapa was my undoing. I found "granny gear" really early on, but even it was no use. We (the Beast and me) came to a stop, my lungs heaving for air. Once I got my breathing under control, I rested my head on my forearms as they lay across the handlebars. B....! I started pushing the bike, but after about 20 meters felt so annoyed with myself I climbed back and almost overbalanced trying to get up to riding speed. The odometer was reading 4k/h. I didn think it was possible to ride so slowly. With every push of the pedals, the Beasts frame twisted, the handlebars attempted to "tank slap" and the burning sensation in my legs intensified.

Almost Flying

But I got there. Over the top and freewheeling - reaching 50 k/h, even 59 k/h for a moment. This was more like it. My spirits soared, I was almost airborne and suddenly all was well with the world again.
And so it continued. I coasted into Wellsford, drank takeaway coffee at a bench in a park and shovelled down lunch.
Id promised myself I was avoiding State
Drying out TimeDrying out TimeDrying out Time

My campsite at the Riverside Holiday Park, a lovely spot where I went to sleep with the sounds of fish jumping in the estuary, moreporks calling and the screech of seabirds.
Highway 1, but every now and then there is going to have to be an exception. This was one. Eight kilometres up the main drag to the turnoff, eight kilometres of madness, insanity. The traffic flew by, and I was buffeted so violently I had trouble staying upright. The worst point was at Te Hana, where theres a steep climb up over a narrow bridge. I clung to the left, my panic set in and the more panicky I felt, the more my body stiffened and the more the Beast swerved - until I was taking up far more room than I needed. It was terrifying and no place for a novice cyclist.

Relief at Last

It was with relief I turned off through some roadworks and headed towards the coast. Suddenly the traffic thinned out, the countryside was undulating, there were flowers, pleasant sights and sounds. I was waved down by a cyclist coming the other way. Jake had clocked up 6,000 k around New Zealand and his tour was coming to an end. He was bright, cheerful and full of enthusiasm. It was a pleasure to meet him and compares bikes and routes.
My campsite at Mangawhai was perfect. On the edge of the estuary with warm sun, a gentle breeze and an opportunity to dry the tent.
Dinner was one of those herioic meals. So just for the record, here goes. From the local fish and chip shop: two big slabs of hoki, chips and a pineapple fritter. And for desert: one yoghurt, one banana and an entire packet of Tim Tams. But lets face it, Id worked up an appetite - 91 k in a day. I felt like a proper cyclist for the first time.


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